By Heather Awen; originally published at Adventures in Animism.
Recently my life has been so turbulent, I decided to head for the Neopagan basics learned in my youth. Center – ground – shield is a common 101 skill for most Neopagans, which I abandoned when I found most of Neopaganism to treat nature as a metaphor, not a real place. Unsure of how to proceed, the land taught me. The framework is based somewhat on the book Neolithic Shamanism by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova. My bioregional animist twist is the fact that you are deep in location, not vagueness, and how to breathe.
Breathe deeply, remembering not to hold at the inhale. That causes stress hormones to release. Exhale long and deep, maybe make some noise, and if you want a pause, do it when your lungs are “empty.” I tend to get tight jaw muscles so I like to make noises when I exhale and move my face about. Vowels are always good. Hissing, too. Focus on the exhale, with your pelvic floor rising and then the muscles in the back of your ribs pushing the air out. When I start to exhale I might tense my pelvic floor, using the muscles that stop the flow of urine.
The image that helps me breathe best is that of a wave washing up into my guts and then leaving there, going out my ribs, up to my mouth. New wave comes in, rolling down my spine. If you look at an infant, they breathe with their whole bodies and it looks like a wave. When I can do that right, my chronic pain is reduced. Like a massage from the inside out. The bottoms of the feet also rise when exhaling if you pay attention, making this a full body experience.
Wave comes in, I expand in the whole body. Wave goes out, my body rolls slightly with the exhale. Pause if I want.
Breathing is a good way to get energy, whether we call it prana or anima or mana or ashe or what have you. I exhale thru my mouth when I need to release energy. I exhale with my nose when I need to keep energy. Living in an ashram when young I learned a lot of ways to breathe that change consciousness.
When wave breathing, I am very reminded/aware of how part of the One Breathe/Great Spirit/Creating I am. I do not own the breath. The breath has been breathed by many others and will be breathed by many more. The breath has breathed many others will breathe many more. I am united with rain forests and algae in each breath. Breathing for me is a global connection, unless I am actually breathing to some specific trees or other plants as a gift. (Which makes me high like sex.) The Creating and I are one.
Connected to the Oneness in a monist type of mystic state, I then return to my own Oneness. I let the breath gather around my belly button. Taoists might say exacting behind the naval, while Kaldera and Krasskova suggest a bit higher or lower depending on your center of gravity. Mine is bit high due to big ribs and large breasts.
Letting the breath make a golden ball there allows me to know that no matter what the day throws at me, I am in my center of gravity. I can “akido” it. I do not practice akido but do know many who do. Here is my (probably bad) explanation of akido which explains how I use centering: Akido is a martial art where you let your opponent’s lack of balance and use of force throw them off their center of balance and crash to the ground or into a wall. You stay focused on your center of gravity and move from there, allowing your opponent to flow around you and injury themselves with their own aggression.
Gathering that golden ball, I let my tap root extend down. I imagine a carrot. A real root like when digging for herbal medicine. Often it includes my whole lower body as the root. I do not use my legs much due to having cerebral palsy. My root self slides easily thru the basement, knowing to avoid the gas tanks, and then into the soil here.
When I do this at home, my root always does the same curves, which I think may be to move easier thru the hard rock of this part of VT. Marble, granite, that’s Vermont. I have never done this on sand, but I would assume that after the sand you could get to more solid ground. My goal is to be as hard as a burdock root to rip from the land. Knowing herbalists, gardeners and foragers understand how tightly the burdock root grabs the soil. I see small roots extend to grip even more tightly.
The water here is hard, ie rich with minerals. I draw this mineral mix up, as it fills my body with a flow and then goes back out the root.
Instead of the traditional Neopagan “pull up energy for yourself and release anything icky to the Earth,” the energy of this land moves all through me and my energy moves into it, neither taking nor dumping. The circulating makes me more at one with the land, as all my physical body tingles with the exchange. Being a sacred materialist, this is joy.
Any “waste” I have of so-called negative emotions (or any energy excess) can be given as a gift to the waste eaters. Bacteria and fungi, break it down. Anything that has outlived its purpose for me is recycled back into Life. In the real world there is no “away” and no waste to send there. Humans have always felt “bad” at times. Something must feed off our lost dreams, frustrations, and grief.
However, I also am exchanging anything about me including “good” feelings. I am not sure if a human good feeling is a good thing to everyone else. Assuming so is rather humancentric and anthropomorphic. There are sea creatures at the bottom of the deepest oceans who live on sulfur blasts. Good for them; not good for me personally to try.
Most animists seem to believe (and I concur) that energy is neutral. How you use it matters. Even more importantly, is how it flows and moves. Right now we have hoarding and depletion and excess all over the planet on every level. Global Weirding, the 1%, 200 species extinct a day, bad agricultural practices, our diets, ozone layer. The harmony of the whole is really whacked.
Therefore in grounding I let the flow be what it needs to be. Any clogs in me it moves, any stagnant areas it revitalizes, any parched places are drenched. This is done with just noticing what is happening. No control. I trust the land to know more than me what our place’s flow is.
The book Neolithic Shamanism had a new idea about shielding for me: being a mountain. The land where you are rises up around you. I am in VT, between the Green Mtns and the White Mtns (both aptly named) in the Piedmont, Appalachia North.
To blend in I try to be like one of the remaining mountains here, like Burke. This area had mountains a long, long time ago that wore down. The few who remain are held up by newer layers of rock and soil. I try to be a mini Burke. Who would notice that on the radar? This is bumpy land. Blend into the place much better.
It feels to me like being in a cave of place. In a mountain, rooted in the soil, I am HERE.
I do not know what to do if you are in Nebraska or some other startlingly flat place. A mountain would stick out, which is not good for shielding. Part of shielding is blending in, being invisible. Dropping Kilimanjaro onto Saskatchewan is sure to raise some eyebrows. In my experience the land would consider you crazy, disrespectful and perhaps dangerous.
You will have to figure out what is protective shielding where you are. Fog? Cacti? (Do not try to be a GMO corn stalk to blend in with a Monsanto monocrop.)
Bio: Heather Awen prayed to be one with the land and got severe multiple chemical sensitivities, which leave her in one of the most vulnerable human populations for homelessness, suicide, and OD by poisons, due the best case scenario being trapped in isolation for life away from all petrochemicals and those who use them. Learning there is no longer a safe human natural habitat and corporate greed denies the illness with which she lives has forced her to update her animism to match the real world. She lives in poverty in rural Vermont, doing MCS and crip justice activism, studying the cultural aspects of permaculture, praying to various Deities that like her, and searching for nontoxic art supplies and clothing, a living Inconvenient Truth. Adventures in Animism is her diary.